JCL Blog

Google is China: Only the stakes are higher for China.

The recent tension between China and Google has focussed our attention on the contrast between these two organizations. However, anyone capable of suspending their own perspective will find some similarities too. Here are a few I can think of:

Long Term Perspective

Both organizations take the long term perspective. China is 30 years into a plan that spans a century or more and Google is a decade into theirs without any sign of letting up. Both organizations focus intently on stability in leadership, China with a one party system and carefully crafted power transitions, and Google with a two tiered corporate governance structure that insulates the leadership from typical wall street pressures.

Driven by Engineering Minds and Data Decisions

Google is famous for collecting data on everything and using it to make better decisions. They believe there is a better way to do just about everything and the new ways will be discovered by those that are willing to try new ideas and measure everything. China is a student of their own experiences and everyone else's. They know good ideas are out there and are willing to bring them home and try them out. China measures everything too.

Growth Attracts Attention and Invites Compromises

Both organizations are experiencing very rapid growth and as a result have attracted the attention of the world. Everyone else wants to be around these growing entities and are often times willing to make significant sacrifices in order to do so. Many companies have compromised their values in order to do business in China. Many have exposed their intellectual property in order to gain access to a market that contains 25% of the world's population. Similarly, individuals and companies alike have turned large volumes of data over to Google. This data about users and their behaviors, that used to be considered private, is Google's biggest asset.

Willing to Accept Collateral Damage

China and Google both know that the growth and change they are navigating through will be painful. China jails its dissidents, and Google has disrupted industries resulting in significant employment dislocation. The leaders of both organizations are able to maintain their focus on their plans without being distracted by the human factors. It may be unfair to equate China's human rights abuses to Google's impact on the newspaper business but the point here is that neither leadership team shows any sign of diverting from their mission because a few lives are impacted.

The Stakes are Higher for China

So far China has raised the standard of living for 500 million people to above the poverty line. The largest and fastest advancement by any nation ever. The mind numbing volume and significance of the choices the leaders of China have had to make to bring about the rise of their nation is awe inspiring. Each misstep has had very real consequences -- in extreme cases measured in the loss of life due to starvation or unrest. The ascension to power and prosperity in our own country pales in comparison. On this scale the stakes at Google really don't register at all.

Motto or not, Google is stunned when it finds us worried they will do evil things with our data. The Chinese leadership is less naieve about the way the world reacts to its policies. They step in a careful and calculated way through their priorities, and work to influence our view of them. They know we view them through the lens of our perspective and so they study us to better understand how we see the world. Someday they will address the things that bother us including piracy and human rights. Until then, we should spend more time studying China so we can pursue mutual interests and compete more effectively.

And the spying and cyber attacks...what about them? I bet the Chinese have a long way to go to catch up our our level of sophistication in these areas. The CIA and the NSA are tough acts to follow.